Leukoplakia

(Hairy Leukoplakia; Smoker’s Keratosis)

Definition

Leukoplakia is a disorder of the mouth’s mucus membranes. White patches form on the tongue or inside of the mouth over weeks or months. This can also occur on the vulva in females, but for unknown reasons. One type, known as hairy leukoplakia, is a type found primarily in people who have HIV or other types of severe immune deficiency.

Causes

Hairy leukoplakia results from infection with the Epstein-Barr virus.Leukoplakia usually results from irritants, such as:
  • Pipe or cigarette smoking
  • Chewing tobacco or snuff
  • Rough teeth
  • Rough places on dentures, fillings, or crowns

Risk Factors

Leukoplakia is more common in men after age 65. Other factors that may increase your chance of developing leukoplakia include:
  • Lifestyle:
    • Tobacco use, especially smokeless tobacco
    • Long-time alcohol use
  • Having a weakened immune system such as from HIV
In women, the condition often develops into cancer.

Symptoms

Leukoplakia may cause:
  • Lesions on the tongue or gums, inside of the cheeks, or on the vulva that is:
    • White, gray, or red in color
    • Thick, slightly raised, or hardened on the surface
  • Sensitivity to touch, heat, or spicy foods
  • Pain or other signs of infection
  • Hairy leukoplakia is painless, with a fuzzy, white appearance
In some cases, leukoplakia looks like oral thrush, which is an infection also associated with HIV infection and lowered immune function.
Oral Thrush—Resembles Leukoplakia
Thrush
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

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